Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Developed for Nonintrusive Fish Surveys

Scientists at PIFSC scientists have worked with colleagues at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) to develop an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), collaboration on several research missions since May 2011. The continuing collaboration is an attempt to create an effective tool to collect fisheries and coral data using nonintrusive methods in rugose and deep (> 2000 m) benthic marine habitats.

Scientists from PIFSC, NWFSC, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay National Marine 
                 Sanctuary pose in Bodega, California, with the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) they are developing 
                 for non-intrusive surveys of fishes and corals. Photo courtesy of George Clyde.
Scientists from PIFSC, NWFSC, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary pose in Bodega, California, with the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) they are developing for non-intrusive surveys of fishes and corals. Photo courtesy of George Clyde.

For the first mission, during 25-27 May 2011, 3 researchers from the NWFSC traveled to Hawaii to join 3 scientists from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) for a week of AUV testing pier-side at the University of Hawaii Marine Center Snug Harbor facility. The goal of the joint operation was to test a new configuration of the AUV's batteries and new self-recording video cameras. The research project led to improved confidence in the AUV's battery system and helped define the advantages and limitations of the new video cameras. Results also revealed a need to schedule pier-side testing at least once a year.

For the next mission, from 20 July to 6 August, the NWFSC was invited by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans to conduct deep-sea and sponge ecosystem surveys at Bowie and Cobb Seamounts. CRED sent one representative to help run and maintain the AUV. A Canadian remotely operated vehicle (ROV) collected optical data as well as sponge and coral samples at depths < 250 m. The AUV was able to collect optical data at depths < 1000 m. Optical data and samples will be used to determine effects of the Canadian sablefish trap fishery on benthic communities. Data will also be used to form a baseline of benthic communities at these seamounts for future climate change monitoring.

Most recently, from 22 August to 1 September, NWFSC, in collaboration with Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, conducted deep-sea coral and sponge habitat surveys in and around Bodega Canyon off the coast of California. Again, CRED sent one representative to help run and maintain the AUV. Visiting scientist Guy Cochrane of the U.S. Geological Society used the optical data from the AUV to better define habitat maps of the area. Results indicate a scattering of corals at the Bodega Canyon and Cordell escarpment along with some sponges on the limited hard substrate. Small isolated patches of hard substrate seem to provide important habitat for invertebrates and fishes in these areas.